top of page

Sustainable Synergies: Green Building Strategies for Warehouses and Distribution Centers

The warehousing and distribution sector is intimately intertwined with sustainability concerns. Increasingly, consumers want products immediately, without delay, and without error. This has increased pressure on warehouses and distribution centers to enhance productivity, fine-tune performance, and become master facilitators in the continuous flow of goods, all while overcoming challenges associated with 24/7 operating costs and employee turnover. Sustainability, both in terms of operational efficiency and long-term business contingency, should be a key goal to any executive team dependent upon a bustling warehouse or DC. Interestingly, one way to address sustainability concerns can be found by looking at the building itself, this is especially true when constructing a new warehouse or distribution center. Incorporating sustainable design principles can not only increase efficiency and lower operating costs but it can have a positive influence on employees.

Sustainable Building Strategies

In the United States, buildings account for 40% of all energy consumption. For this reason, many sustainable building strategies focus on efficiency upgrades that reduce aggregate consumption and offer utility cost savings. Common efficiency strategies include the use of LEDs and automatic lighting controls. Other sustainable practices focus on reducing energy associated heating and cooling requirements by installing high-efficiency windows, using reflective or cool roof technology, and upgrading outdated HVAC systems. Alternatively, some buildings utilize on-site renewable technology to offset energy demands or install geothermal systems to utilize passive heating and cooling opportunities that exist underneath or adjacent to a building’s footprint.



In areas of water conservation, the use of native landscaping, efficient irrigation systems, and permeable paving surfaces can reduce outdoor water consumption. Indoor strategies include the use of low-flow fixtures and Energy Star appliances. For large facilities or distributors with multiple locations, the installation of whole building metering may provide opportunities to fine tune energy and water consumption, pinpoint efficiency problems, and show trends. For buildings pursuing a green building certification, such metering may be required.

Other sustainable building strategies focus on the use of sustainably sourced materials, the use of low or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) interior materials and finishes (paints), and the incorporation of recycling programs. There are many sustainable solutions that warehouses and distribution centers can easily integrate that have positive impacts on the environment and can actually reduce long-term operating costs. Additionally, there are several green building certification programs that incorporate a variety of strategies that new and existing buildings can use as a guide or pursue for certification. One of the most prominent programs is the LEED Rating System.

Rendering of L’Oréal’s Carbon Neutral Factory in Hubei Province, China. Retrieved from Direct Industry eMag.

About LEED

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System is an elective, above-code building rating system that promotes sustainability within the built environment. Since its inception in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED has become one of the most prevalent and prestigious green building rating systems. To date, there are 94,000 projects using the rating system and nearly 2.4 million square feet are LEED certified each day. As an advocacy organization, a primary goal of USGBC has been to utilize the LEED rating system as a market transformation tool. It continues to accomplish this goal by focusing on key aspects of building design and operation, including but not limited to:

  • Energy efficiency and building metering,

  • Water conservation,

  • Site selection that reduces commuting,

  • Infill development that reduces sprawl,

  • Sustainable sourcing of raw materials,

  • Construction waste reduction and recycling,

  • Enhancing occupant comfort, and

  • Improving indoor air quality and reducing VOCs.

  • USGBC.

With the introduction of LEED v4.0 in 2013, LEED is currently in its 6th iteration. Each new version has brought increased stringency to the rating system and has spurred market response across the entire building design and construction industry. It is quite easy to find material manufacturers and suppliers that incorporate LEED guidelines into production or sourcing activities. Furthermore, the influence of LEED and USGBC has been so successful that public partnerships are quite common, with LEED incorporating standards in coordination with the Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, some state governments now require all publicly funded building projects to achieve LEED certification.

For private entities, the benefits of LEED are numerous and include, operational cost savings (especially for entities that own and operate buildings or those who hold large building portfolios), increased employee productivity, healthier indoor environments, and investments in shareholder interests. In fact, green building is a common strategy employed by REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) to bolster investor confidence and communicate fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.

LEED and Warehouses

To capture as much market share as possible, LEED offers six versions of the rating system depending on the type of project seeking certification. For warehouses and distribution centers, the most applicable versions include BD+C (Building Design and Construction) for new construction and O+M (Operations and Maintenance) for existing buildings. Both rating systems evaluate buildings across the seven categories: Location and Transportation (LT), Sustainable Sites (SS), Water Efficiency (WE), Energy and Atmosphere (EA), Materials and Resources (MR), Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ), and Innovation (IN).

Depending on the level of certification desired (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) projects teams can select which credits they would like to pursue. The rating system does have prerequisites that all projects must achieve to be eligible for LEED certification. Importantly, many of these perquisites in the rating system are indicative of best practices and minimum performance requirements that any building owner would want to account for in any major capital project. A qualified architectural firm or GC should be familiar with energy modeling requirements found in the LEED rating system, as they are most often complementary to energy performance documentation required by municipal building code officials.

Beyond reducing operating costs, LEED promotes quality work environments, which have significant impacts on employee satisfaction and health. Although not directly communicated, many LEED strategies enhance occupant health and safety. This is achieved through LEED credits that promote indoor air quality, encourage natural daylight and exterior views, reduce the exposure to volatile organic compounds, and provide employees with outdoor space for breaks. Numerous studies have shown that employees are more productive, have fewer sick days, and are less stressed when the workplace incorporates such comfort strategies.

Getting Started with Sustainability

Given the significant role it plays in green building programs and its impact on business operating costs, a great place to start incorporating sustainability is in areas of energy efficiency. Lighting upgrades and smart sensors can help reduce overall kwh used in facilities. A thorough HVAC inspection and testing may reveal areas for improvement and energy savings. If a roof upgrade is on the horizon, utilizing cool roof technologies with a high SRI (solar reflective index) rating or incorporating solar panels may prove a high ROI.

Understandably, implementing any sustainability initiative requires initial investment; however, most strategies can repay themselves in as little as 1-2 years. Furthermore, local utility providers or municipalities may offer incentives to reduce overall grid demand. Other creative financing solutions, especially for renewables, include power purchasing agreements, which offset initial investments for large capital projects. For any company building a new warehouse or DC, the option to pursue green building certification should be seriously considered. The average extra cost on a LEED certified construction project is 1-2% yet the long term benefits associated with better building performance, a healthy work environment, and occupant (employee) satisfaction can far outweigh such an investment. For more information on sustainability initiatives, green building certifications, and sustainable warehousing contact us!

"Progress Demands Change"


Lauren Bruckler, LEED AP BD+C | Homes

bottom of page